Thirty-six matches had been played since Scotland last tasted victory in the Women's Six Nations, but 37 proved to be their lucky number after scrum-half Sarah Law held her nerve to kick the winning penalty with four minutes remaining to secure a 15-14 win over Wales at Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld on Friday.
Scotland, the only Six Nations team who won't be competing at Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 in August having lost their qualifier with Spain last November, had cruelly been denied a draw at the same venue in round one when Ireland scored with the final play to seal a 22-15 victory, but were finally able to wipe the date 6 February, 2010 from memory.
That was the day they beat France in their Championship opener in 2010 and Law's penalty meant that Scotland also brought to an end another unwanted sequence of 13 consecutive losses to Wales dating back to March 2005.
Scotland had dominated possession and territory in the first half, but found themselves 14-0 down as half-time approached after Wales captain Carys Phillips was driven over from a lineout in the 20th minute and then the visitors were awarded a penalty try 14 minutes later when their drive was halted illegally.
But it would be Scotland who took the momentum into the break with Lisa Thomson's try with the final act of the first half nothing more than the home side deserved. From a breakdown after a period of prolonged pressure, the centre burst through a tackle and spun around to dot the ball down, giving Law an easy conversion to make it 14-7 at half-time.
The third quarter was a little scrappy and played largely between the 22-metre lines, but just past the hour mark Scotland scored a second try from a scrum on Wales' five-metre line. Jade Kronkel, their two-try hero against Ireland, picked up from number eight and found Law to her left, the scrum-half drawing the last defender before releasing winger Rhona Lloyd through the gap.
Hooker Lana Skeldon missed the conversion from out wide to leave Scotland trailing by two. With the clock ticking down, Scotland could find no way through as Wales defended with grit, but then Law had the chance to atone for a second-minute penalty miss and with the pressure on she made no mistake to seal the 15-14 win to the delight of the crowd and her team-mates.
Wales now sit above Scotland in the standings only on point difference with both having five points through a win and losing bonus point, leaving fly-half Elinor Snowsill admitting her side have lots to work on before their round four meeting with Ireland in two weeks' time.
"It does seem as though we are in a bit of a state of shock at the moment. It wasn't what we were expecting or hoping for – we are all very disappointed and a bit numb," said Snowsill. "In the first half we managed the game pretty well. We sustained a lot of pressure without conceding any points and then we took our chances to score those two tries.
"But we shouldn't have let them in for that try on half-time – that was a crucial momentum shift in the game. We had half-time to re-group, but in the second half our indiscipline completely cost us. We have to stick together as a team and ride out the storm. It is pretty tough to take, but you have to give credit to Scotland because they have been battling for quite some time."
The win improves Scotland's rating by 1.77 points but they remain 13th in the World Rugby Women's Rankings, albeit now closer to South Africa above them. Wales fall one to 10th in defeat, swapping places with Italy despite their 29-15 loss to England at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Fleetwood hat-trick inspires England
Scotland may have stolen the headlines on Friday but it was England hooker Vicky Fleetwood who wrote her own name into the history books a day later as the first Red Roses' forward to score a Six Nations hat-trick. It could have been four after she pounced when the ball came loose in a tackle by Katy Mclean on the line, but that was ruled dangerous and the World Cup winning captain was sent off and the try chalked off.
England may have secured their second bonus-point win of the Championship to go three from three, but they had to overcome an early setback after Italy crossed for the opening try at the Twickenham Stoop, the first points the Red Roses had conceded since the first half of their opening win over France.
Italy captain Sara Barattin made a break and the visitors remained patient, going through the phases before full-back Manuela Furlan chipped the ball through for winger Sofia Stefan to score and give her side a dream start inside four minutes.
That 5-0 lead held for 10 minutes, until some good work by Harriet Millar-Mills created an opportunity for winger Kay Wilson to score on her first appearance in this year's Championship. Three minutes later England hit the front when Amy Wilson-Hardy, who had scored twice in the 63-0 rout of Wales in round two, touched down out wide.
Fleetwood then got in on the act with her first try while Italy had second-row Elisa Pillotti in the sin-bin, England kicking the penalty to touch and then driving their hooker over the line to make it 16-5 as the half-hour approached. Her second try came six minutes later and then the hat-trick was completed five minutes after the break in exactly the same scenario as her first.
That made is 29-5 with Emily Scarratt enduring an off-day with the boot, but Italy – who had only been able to name seven on the bench after losing flanker Lucia Cammarano just before kick-off – refused to buckle and kept scrapping away, earning their reward in the 56th minute when Furlan broke down the wing and kicked ahead, refusing to give up the chase and nudging it once more for Barattin to win the race to touchdown.
That try galvanised Italy and when Mclean was sent off and then replacement Poppy Cleall was yellow-carded for a high tackle, the Azzurra heaped the pressure on England and were rewarded when they found space on the left for Furlan to cross for her side's third try. They were unable to score another for a bonus point, but can take great heart from the way they finished the game in the ascendancy against an opponent they will meet against at WRWC 2017.
“It was frustrating at times, but credit to Italy, they were outstanding,” said England coach Simon Middleton. “Full marks to our players at the end, they showed fantastic character when they were down to 13 with eight minutes left on the clock. Italy were in the ascendency but we defended for our lives and with a great deal of discipline and shape.”
England's rating is unchanged in the World Rugby Women's Rankings as a result of the 13.67 rating points separating them in second from Italy.
Ireland hang on against France
The last match of the third round, at Donnybrook on Sunday, was a cagey and error-strewn affair which saw Ireland sneak it 13-10 against France to close to within one hundredth of their WRWC 2017 Pool C opponents in the World Rugby Women's Rankings.
With a strong wind behind them, Ireland dominated the opening half hour and kept France largely pinned in their own 22. However, all they had to show for that pressure was a Nora Stapleton penalty and were fortunate France were unable to get on the board in the final 10 minutes of the half when they finally began to enjoy some sustained pressure in Ireland's half.
Ireland lost their captain Paula Fitzpatrick to the sin-bin just before half-time and in her absence after the break France finally found a way through, outside centre Caroline Ladaganous finding herself in space to run in the opening try of the match, full-back Jessy Trémoulière adding the tricky conversion to make it 7-3.
Fitzpatrick returned and France quickly lost their outstanding flanker Marjorie Mayans to the sin-bin after she failed to roll away from a tackle, Ireland seizing on their advantage to drive hooker Leah Lyons over from a well-worked maul, Stapleton adding the conversion for a 10-7 advantage for the home side.
With the wind having dropped, Ireland played the conditions better and France made numerous handling errors, seemingly having no answer. Stapleton increased Ireland's lead with her second penalty, but this was quickly cancelled out by Trémoulière, who by then had moved into the fly-half position.
France lost a second player to the sin-bin in second-row Lenaïg Corson but despite a late rally were unable to find the score to deny Ireland a morale-boosting victory ahead of their WRWC 2017 meeting at the UCD Bowl in Dublin on 17 August in what could well be the Pool C decider.
Ireland remain unbeaten but have slipped from top spot in the standings by virtue of England's better point differential. France lie third with eight points – six points behind the top two – with Wales and Scotland on five points and Italy yet to open their account.
Photo credit: SNS Group/SRU
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